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Exercise Class Designed to Delay Parkinson's Disease

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa-- Each year 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. The majority of those who are diagnosed are over the age of 50.

There is no cure for the disease and it slowly worsens over time, but there are ways to manage the symptoms.

Parkinson's is a neurological disease. It starts when certain brain cells die. It impacts the body and mind in a variety of ways, including
posture and balance, making it difficult even to walk. Muscles become stiff, causing a decreased range of motion. It also slows down movement, making everyday tasks like getting out of a chair difficult. Some studies show exercise can help improve these functions in Parkinson's patients.

Delay the Disease is a fitness program designed for Parkinson's patients that is taught across the country. Kris Cameron teaches the course in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Through a series of sitting and standing exercises, she works with Parkinson's patients to improve posture, balance, range of motion, and walking. Cameron says the movements can be modified for patients of all different abilities.

For her, helping Parkinson's patients regain movement is a personal mission -- her father died from the disease.

"Once diagnosed, he just sat in a chair and deteriorated pretty quickly," Cameron said. "When I started meeting people who were 15-20 years in, I thought, this isn't something people just die from. So my goal is to get people up and moving and get their confident back and to give them hope."

While Cameron's classes meet just twice a week, she says daily exercise is essential for Parkinson's patients. She offers those in her class take home worksheets. There's also a DVD available, so people can do the exercises at home.

We spoke to Dr. Andrew Peterson, Chair of Neurology and Sleep Medicine at PCI in Cedar Rapids, to find out if exercises really does help Parkinson's patients. Peterson said while some studies have been done on the impact of exercises on Parkinson's patients, most have been too small to collect any real results. Exercise certainly can't hurt, he added.

Dr. Peterson often recommends his patients do Tai Chi, a form of exercise that he says helps improve balance.

"Exercise is really useful, that is true of most neurological disorders," Peterson said. "If all they do is sit around, they get really good at sitting around. People with Parkinson's have a lot of motor problems, so they're slow and their balance is bad, getting up and doing stuff makes that better. They move quicker, more stable when they walk and do things."

Peterson says that while in his experience, it is clear exercise helps Parkinson's patients move better, the long term impact of exercises on patients is not known.

Cameron offers Delay the Disease exercise classes on Mondays and Fridays at Stonebridge Church in Cedar Rapids for free. She also holds classes in Iowa City on Sundays and Wednesdays for $5.

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